The concept "developing country" contains a certain inherent view of the relationship between rich and poor countries: Third World countries suffer from a sort of lagging behind in comparison to the West. In time they will get over this and be like us. More and more of them will take their place in the line-up of developed, capitalistic countries. This viewpoint also has its Marxist variant. It builds on imperialism having an historically progressive function in the Third World, through partaking in developing the forces of production and in industrializing. This will also create a modern working class, which can lead the socialistic revolution when the time is ripe. (See Brewer 1980, among others, for a discussion on different Marxists' views on imperialism's role in relation to the Third World.) This type of viewpoint can naturally find support in a number of quotations from Marx and Engels, and is not really unknown in the context of "the mighty, united wave" which I have described above (with the quite important difference that Marx and Engels wrote in another period of history, before modern imperialism). Naturally, this point of view has not had much support in the real, fighting movements.
But this is a difficult and unclarified point in socialistic theory. Within the classical tradition socialism has been seen as a child of highly developed capitalism. Capitalism itself creates the conditions for the new society: materially, by developing the forces of production and by production becoming more and more social; politically, by the growth of the new, non-property-owning working class and by their organizing themselves. This class gradually becomes strong enough to overthrow the bourgeoisie through a revolution. Developed capitalism is, therefore, a necessary stage on the road to socialism.
In line with this, Marx and contemporary revolutionaries thought that the first socialistic revolutions would come in developed capitalistic countries. But things did not turn out that way. The backward Soviet Union was first out, and China followed up. Lenin pointed out that what began as a bourgeois-democratic revolution against Tsarism necessarily had to conflict with imperialism. Stalin put it this way in his lectures on Leninism's foundation: (Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism, p. 7, Peking, 1965):
"Tsarism was not only the watchdog of imperialism in the east of Europe, but, in addition, it was the agent of Western imperialism for squeezing out of the population hundreds of millions by way of interest on loans obtained in Paris and London, Berlin and Brussels."
And since imperialism is capitalism in a new and internationalized stage, the rebellion against Tsarism had to become a rebellion against capitalism, or, in other words, a socialistic revolution.
In the article On the New Democracy of 1940 Mao argues along the same lines, but even more sharply: a national democratic revolution no longer has the opportunity to develop a national, independent Capitalism. That road is definitely closed to colonial and half-colonial countries. Attempts to create an independent capitalism will only lead the country into a new, half-colonial status, dominated by the large imperialistic powers. The national democratic revolution in countries of Chinese type must therefore break with imperialism and develop into a socialistic revolution.
The leaders in the two great revolutions stated that capitalism's development into Imperialism had created a new situation: undeveloped, half-feudal countries could not go through a stage of developed capitalism to reach socialism. Their lack of development had to be overcome within a new form of society which broke with capitalism and imperialism. And Lenin was clear in his opinion of imperialism in his well-known book on the subject in 1914: capitalism's development to the imperialistic stage meant that it had become parasitic and rotting (Lenin, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, p. 9, Peking 1965):
"...the parasitism and decay of capitalism which are characteristic of its highest historical stage of development, i.e., imperialism. /.../ capitalism has now singled out a handful (less than one-tenth of the inhabitants of the globe: less than one-fifth at a most "generous" and liberal calculation) of exceptionally rich and powerful states which plunder the whole world simply by "clipping coupons".
Samir Amin (Amin, 1990) stands for a view on imperialism which on many points lies close to Mao's as he formulated them in On the New Democracy (Mao, English edition, Peking 1965). Amin states that capitalism does not homogenize, even out, but, on the contrary, polarizes, creates differences. It is true that capitalistic forms of production penetrate into every corner of the world. The capitalistic process of accumulation (the collection of riches) goes on on a global scale. But it goes on under the control of, and on conditions belonging to, the ruling class in the capitalistic centers, in our part of the world. Capitalism and imperialism necessarily create polarization: riches and power at the one pole - the centers; poverty and helplessness at the other pole - the periphery. For the poor countries, those called "underdeveloped countries", imperialism means liquidation rather than development.
This point of view does not mean that there may never, under any conditions, occur a capitalistic development and industrialization in any Third World country. We have examples of this happening. (One example is South Korea. But there must be very special conditions present. See Utvik (1991) for a discussion of these conditions in the case of South Korea.) But a successful industrialization and development on the basis of integration in the world market is not the rule.
Presenting imperialism as "historically progressive" is better suited to excusing Western extortion and oppression than to inspire revolutionary struggle. At the same time Western Marxists (and others) who in the main support Mao's and Amin's views, have been unwilling to grasp how clear a break this is with the "mighty, united wave". If imperialism polarizes, the force most capable of creating change will not necessarily be found in highly developed, capitalistic societies. Seen in this perspective it is hardly surprising that rebellions against capitalism first appear in the areas where people are hit hardest, in the periphery, and not in the capitalistic centers. "New Democratic" revolutions, which have no choice but to try to follow into a socialistic phase, are a reasonable and logical result of the polarizing, imperialistic world system. It is therefore not a result of very special historical circumstances when the underdeveloped Soviet Union and China became the first socialistic countries. However, this is not always appreciated. The fact that things have "gone wrong" in the Soviet Union and China, has been interpreted as an expression of these revolutions not having been carried out according to the book. Many of the problems and the more off-putting aspects of these societies have been explained by the difficulty (not to mention hopelessness) of creating socialism with the kind of starting point China and the Soviet Union had. A Western revolution and a Western socialism is needed to show how it should be done.
But if Mao and Amin are right when they state that the Third World has no other choice than to break with imperialism, then they must start building the new society with a different starting point than highly developed capitalism. This is the situation for the majority of the world's exploited and oppressed. A socialistic theory which sees this as an unhappy mistake, does not have much to offer.
There are those who will answer that the people of the Third World must find their own way to a new society, and we in the West must find ours. It is not that simple. It is true that the socialistic theory which makes the majority its' starting point will most probably be developed by representatives of that majority, which means in the Third World. But if capitalism and imperialism are a coherent global system which necessarily create polarization, this has consequences for us, too. We cannot take our own societies for granted as a starting point for building socialism. Our societies are partially built on exploiting the people of the Third World. No true socialism can be built unless the current centers liberate themselves from the role of exploiter. The struggle the people of the Third World wage, and that which we wage, are neither "a mighty, united wave" nor two parallel struggles. They are a coherent struggle where we fight from different starting points.
According to the classical understanding, socialism must build on an economy with high productivity. As long as the main part of people's time is consumed with producing the necessities of life, only a small minority can be spared to other types of activity: intellectual work, governing and administrating society. This makes it impossible to abolish social differences and draw the large majority into governing and managing. Communism, the classless society, has to be a society without shortage, where everyone's needs can be satisfied. The classical formulation of this premise can be found in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, by Friedrich Engels in 1882. Engels states that the division into classes is connected to certain historical circumstances. A class society only has an historical justification while production is inadequate. It will be swept away when modern forces of production are fully developed ( p. 152, in Marx, Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1955):
"And, in fact, the abolition of classes in society presupposes a degree of historical evolution at which the existence, not simply of this or that particular ruling class, but of any ruling class at all, and, therefore, the existence of class distinction itself has become an obsolete anachronism. It presupposes, therefore, the development of production carried out to a degree at which appropriation of the means of production and of the products, and, with this, of political domination, of the monopoly of culture, and of intellectual leadership by a particular class of society, has become not only superfluous but economically, politically, intellectually a hindrance to development. This point is now reached."
"This point is now reached," wrote Engels in 1882. This sounds odd in modern ears. One reason for this is that our picture of what "shortage" and "abundance" are, has been colored by the capitalistic consumer society we live in. At the end of the last century ideas on this were different. Another reason is that Engels must have been speaking of some few Western European countries. The statement that a society without shortage was possible in 1882, becomes even odder if we see it on a global scale. And where did the riches in the Western countries come from? From exploitation of their own working class, of course. But also from the exploitation of the colonies. The Indian researcher Maithreyi Krishna Raj quotes A. Sen, who says: "Where did the capital for the industrial revolution in England come from? Enormous sums streamed into England from overseas, from slave trading, and from 1760, the organized plundering of India." Raj points at the un-industrializing of India, which took place in particular after 1813, when British factory owners needed a market. In the General governors report of 1834-35 one can read that, "The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce. The bones of cotton weavers bleach on India's plains." (See Myrdal's India waits (1980), where he compares the British income from exportation of Indian rice, wheat and other corns with the number of dead in famines.) Engels can hardly have meant that the foundation for a classless plentiful society should be exploitation of oppressed people.
That socialism must build on an economy with high productivity, and that the goal is the plentiful society, is a problematical stand to take in our times. For the world's majority the starting-point for building a new society has to be an economy which is not only "backward" but also twisted and ruined by imperialistic exploitation. The Philippines, originally a Spanish colony, later colonized and now dominated by the USA, makes a good example: the Philippines lack the actual foundation for modern industry, such as the production of basic metals, chemicals and machines. The factories which do exist, are dependent upon importing the means of production and raw materials. Philippine raw materials are not produced with domestic manufacture in mind. They are produced for export and manufacture in other countries. The most important livelihood is agriculture. Both central food produce and export crops are produced at a very low technological level. Imported tractors are used only on 4 per cent of their fields and these are fields growing export crops (Sison/Werning 1989).
How one develops the economy in a country of this type is a difficult question which I cannot go into in full breadth. Samir Amin is among those who have discussed this (1990). A central concept in Amin is de-linking. By de-linking he does not mean that a country cuts itself off from all economic connections with the rest of the world and goes in for total autarky. De-linking means going in for an economic development which is mainly governed by the internal needs and conditions in the country. These conditions should decide the economic connections with other countries. The opposite of de-linking is adaptation. In that case the outside conditions, the capitalistic world market, steers the internal economic development in the country.
Amin sees de-linking as a completely necessary condition in order to succeed in an economic and social development which serves the masses in the countries of the Third World. The bourgeoisie in the Third World is incapable of handling this task. They are becoming steadily more compradorized, that is, allied with and subservient to the bourgeoisie in the capitalistic centers. This de-linking must therefore be brought about by other forces: a broad, popular alliance made up of several classes and several tendencies. On the basis of such a de-linking it becomes possible to start a development where socialistic conditions may gradually prevail. One of the most important tasks for this broad, popular alliance, is developing the forces of production in such a way that the economic development serves the people, not just creates a rich upper- and perhaps middle class. It is of special importance that there is an similar rate of exchange between agriculture and industry so that economic development does not occur through exploitation of rural areas. In Amin's opinion, Maoistic strategy mainly followed this model. And China managed to lift its' enormous population out of endless need to decent poverty, by their own efforts, without exploiting other countries. Those are excellent results. But when one has tried to move on beyond this level, great problems have arisen.
Amin does not use the word "socialism" about the society which results in Third World countries after a de-linking. The name is not the main thing. The main thing is that such a society demands power relations which make it possible to assure an economic and social development serving the majority. This means that one must have an economic strategy which strengthens the majority's power and control, instead of strengthening an economic and political elite. "Economic and technological development" are not neutral concepts. To give an example, economic growth is most often measured as an increase in gross national product. The gross national product mainly measures the amount of commodities and services which are included in the commodity economy in a society. Some of the things produced outside the commodity economy are also included by attempting to calculate what the commodity/service would cost if it were bought on the market. What is included varies a bit from country to country. However, they all commonly exclude work which can be seen as "housework", and that means almost all unpaid work done by women, no matter the content (see Waring, 1989). Let us look at an example - we have an African peasant family who provide for themselves by cultivating everything they need to sustain life. The husband plows the fields and cultivates millet. The wife carries water, fuel, cultivates vegetables, keeps a pig and some hens, makes food. She also takes part in weeding and harvesting on the husband's fields. The husband's work will show up in the gross national product in the shape of the price (fairly low) he would get if his millet crop were sold at the local market in the nearest village. The wife's work would not show up at all. In gross national product terms this family will appear to have a very low income, and, therefore, a very low standard of living. The area is then hit by drought and it becomes impossible to farm where this family lives. The husband goes to the city to try to find work. The wife and children remain and try to manage as best they can. The husband is incredibly lucky and finds work. In money value his income is now much higher than the amount he would have received for his millet crop at the local market. But now he has to buy everything he needs at high city prices. There is no money left to send to the wife and children, so they starve. If we are to believe the terms of the gross national product, an "economic development" has occurred for this family. They have increased their income, and, thereby, their standard of living.
A not unimportant part of that which is presented as "economic growth" are processes of this type. "The gross national product" is not a neutral, so-called objective measure of economic development. It is a measure which contains a number of political standpoints. One of these standpoints is that anything which expands the commodity market, is a good thing for the world. Another is that women's and children's standard of living are totally without interest.
Another example - Most countries in the Third World have a traditional, non-capitalistic sector (mainly non-capitalistic agriculture) and a capitalistic sector which "feeds" on the traditional sector. The traditional sector provides the modern sector with very cheap labor, among other things. One of the most disgusting forms this takes is the exploitation of young girls and women in the sex industry. Thailand, for example, has staked purposefully on developing tourism as a link in an "export"-oriented growth strategy. Tourism has grown steadily in importance as a source of foreign currency income. In 1970 income from tourism was equal to income from exportation of rubber, in 1986 it was twice as large as that of rubber. The state also takes in a tax on hotel rooms of up to 16 per cent and a tax on "entertainment" of up to 16.5 per cent. It has been estimated that 6-8 per cent of the female population between 15 and 34 years of age work as prostitutes. These are mainly recruited from the poverty-stricken Thai countryside. An important part of Thailand's "export-oriented" growth, in other words, depends on the existence of a large number of girls/women who have no other "choice" than prostitution (Thanh-Dam Truong 1990). The poverty-stricken countryside is a necessary "recruiting ground" for the development of modern tourist industry.
This is not the kind of economic growth the people of Thailand need, even though it does lead to a higher gross national product. Neither economic growth, technological development, nor productivity can be discussed without asking whom they serve. In a discussion on women and development in India Maithreyi Krishna Raj puts it this way (p.102):
"Is technology gender neutral? Who makes decisions on introduction of new techniques and whose interests are served? Are technological changes in different spheres of productive activity also accompanied by changes in the ownership of the means of production, division of labour, generation of surplus and its accumulation and labour absorption? Can questions of technology be studied without considering production relations? Can these be analysed without considering the nature of power relationships within the household?"
Raj points out that the relationship between technology and women must be studied along many dimensions: a) the effect on employment; b) the effect on the type of work; c) the effect on health and nutrition; d) the effect on general, social status; e) the availability of technology which increases productivity and leads to less toil. However, this is not only appropriate for women. A strategy for economic development which will serve the poor masses in the Third World, must ask all these questions, and perhaps more.
A line of thought which sees "development" and "modernization" as something neutral has been prominent among socialists, too. "Lenin took over the Taylor system for rationalizing industry, Stalin cheered American efficiency, and China of today gladly learns industrial rationalization from Japan and South Korea", to phrase it as Pål Steigan does (1990, p. 110). Socialistic countries that have tried to develop and modernize their economy have taken over capitalism's technology and methods of production. Others things were thrown into the bargain, such as a number of capitalism's methods of leadership, values, and views on the relationship between people and nature.
The idea that socialism must be a child of highly developed capitalism, and that the classless, communist society must build on material plenty, can easily mean that an equal relationship between people must "wait" until economic development has reached a certain level. This is both correct and incorrect. It is true that a low level of economic development means that a great deal of time and work are spent producing daily necessities. That makes it difficult to avoid a situation where only a minority can spend time on other things: governing; administration; intellectual and artistic activity. And this minority will have a different position in society than the majority. On the other hand, "the level of economic development" is an ambiguous concept. If one thinks it isn't, one can find oneself, in the name of progress, justifying a "development" that ruins living conditions for the majority, and that strengthens the power of those who least of all are concerned with creating a better life for the common people. An economic strategy for the Third World must have the greatest possible equality between people as a premise built into economic development, not the premise that this must "wait".
These questions are highly topical in our part of the world, too. We are not faced with the task of developing the means of production as they are in the Third World. But in one sense we are. First of all, it will be our task to alter the economy and develop the means of production on a totally new basis, to low-energy, low-resource production. The ecological perspective makes this quite necessary. We simply can no longer bear the type of economic development capitalism has stood for, if people are still to be able to live on this planet. Secondly, the task will be to develop an economy that is freed from the exploitational relationship to the Third World. We need an equal, global development within the framework ecological considerations demand. This must mean quite drastic changes in our way of life.
It is often said that people in the North will hardly be willing to give up their advantages for people in the South. But an equal, global development within an ecologically defensible framework is, in the long run, all about the opportunity to create a life worth living both for people in the North and the South. This type of development is in our interests, too. Williams speaks of how dangerous it is to discuss consumption and patterns of consumption separately from all the real processes in the world. One such real process has to do with war and peace. As the pressure on resources increases, the existing western-capitalistic production- and life-style can only be maintained with continuous wars (Williams 1989, p. 224):
"Opinion will be mobilized for what will be called "peacekeeping"; in fact wars and raids and threatening interventions to ensure supplies or to keep down prices."
The unequal situation when it comes to consumption of the earth's resources will inevitably lead to continual wars, states Williams. And isn't the maintaining of peace a crucial component of any rational definition of a standard of life?
Williams pointed this out in 1982. I am writing this almost 10 years later, in 1991, just after the end of exactly the type of war Williams is talking about: the USA's war against Iraq. The war was advertised as an action to free a small, occupied country: Kuwait. In reality it was a war to secure American control over Middle East oil resources, and to keep the price of oil down. Cheap oil is USA's way of production and living. The Gulf War cost approximately 6 billion NOK a day, as much as a yearly Norwegian foreign aid budget. While the war continued, famine struck again at millions of Africans.
Are the peoples of the North well served by a so-called "standard of life" that means that steadily greater resources must be used in bloody wars to defend "our right" to have cheap oil and other raw materials? And are we well served with the development this sort of process will further in our own societies: increased racism, fear, stricter surveillance and control of dissidents, regimentation of the media, restriction of the freedom of speech, large defense budgets, enormous resources used on research for military proposes instead of solving ecological problems?
We have no less reason than the peoples of the Third World to remove the neutral aura surrounding the concept of development and see which interests are hidden there. And we must ask all Maithreyi Krishna Raj's questions. And the premise of the greatest possible equality of relations between people must be built into the strategy for an ecologically defensible economy.
We must, at the least, strongly question that socialism must be built on a society with high productivity, and that the classless, communistic society is a society without shortages. In any case the idea that an equal relation between people must "wait" until the level of economic development is high enough, must be rejected. Technological solutions and roads to economic development must be chosen according to whether or not they create equality.
If the picture of "the mighty, united wave" is exchanged with polarized imperialism that forces socialistic acceleration forward from radically different starting-points, it presents several challenges to the revolutionaries in the West. Many revolutionaries of my generation have experienced disappointment and disillusionment in the enthusiasms of their youth. Views on socialism and socialistic countries have gone through many phases. The perception of China makes a good example. A naive enthusiasm during the cultural revolution made way for a more sober judgment after Mao's death and the fall of the gang of four. Then we laid stress on the fact that China was a backward Third World country with enormous difficulties to overcome in the attempt to build socialism. It was hardly surprising that things couldn't be so perfect in a country of that type. Under these objective conditions China had to become a poor compromise between ideal socialism and reality.
The more sober appraisement of China meant that we began to look at societies in our own part of the world with greater hope. Conditions here were different, ideal socialism could be realized in all its beauty here. In this phase we tended almost to consider it annoyingly bad luck that the revolution was victorious in hopeless countries like the Soviet Union and China first. If it had only happened as Marx thought it would, with the revolution arriving first in the advanced, capitalistic countries, we would have had some very different and shining examples to show off!
We have attributed many of the unappetizing characteristics of socialistic societies and socialism's history to the "backward" starting-point the Soviet Union and China had. And it is, of course, correct that the social system in these countries is a concrete, historical product, a fusion of new and old, where a semi-feudal content has often filled socialistic forms. One has to look this in the eye and analyze it in a manner as free of prejudice as possible. The problem arises when the experiences of these countries are denied as "wrong", as not "real". A suggestion creeps in that it is in countries of our type that "real", perfect socialism can be created. We are the norm, the others are an inferior deviation.
Let us make the mental experiment that the first, victorious revolutions won through in European, fully developed countries such as England and France. Probably our picture of socialism would have been quite different today. The socialistic one party state would perhaps be an unknown phenomenon. But does this mean that the socialistic societies and socialism's history would lack disgusting aspects? Hardly. They would just be different. Perhaps racism would be far more prominent if socialism had first begun in the old colonial countries that were used to considering themselves "the bearers of civilization". There were representatives at the Congress of the Second International who spoke of having a "socialistic colonial policy". The French Communist Party was unable to take a clear stand for the Algerian Liberation Movement's demands for independence after WW II. Simone de Beauvoir writes in her memoirs from this period (English edition 1968, p. 352):
"Also, the Communist Party feared it would be cutting itself off from the masses if it appeared to be less nationalistic than the other parties. Officially it expressed its opposition to the government; but it no longer urged all those who could to defy it. It made no effort to combat the racism of the French workers, who considered the 400,000 North Africans settled in France as both intruders doing them out of jobs and as a sub-proletariat worthy only of contempt."
This was a war where the French set up concentration camps in Algeria. More than 1 million people died in these camps within three years. And it was a war where bestial torture and atrocities were perpetrated daily.
In our part of the world, too, socialism would have been a concrete, historical product, a fusion between old and new. In our part of the world, too, the old contents could easily be used to fill new forms. It is unlikely that such western socialism would be particularly "pure" or perfect. The difference is probably that we would find it considerably more difficult to see the faults, because they would not knock against our ideas and prejudices in the same way.
Many of the characteristics of societies in the Third World which we find repulsive are, moreover, created by or kept up by imperialism. Amin (1990) states that the type of parliamentarian democracy we have in the West, is only possible in the capitalistic centers, not in the periphery. In the capitalistic centers there is a certain connection between work productivity and worker's conditions of life. This gives a foundation for a larger degree of class peace, which makes a parliamentarian form of government possible. In the Third World, on the other hand, there is no foundation for the necessary minimum of social harmony between the masses, who have to pay the price for imperialistic exploitation, and the ruling class is compradorized, that is, allied with imperialism. Amin's views can be right or wrong. It is, at least, certain that imperialism is an important hindrance for the growth of democracy, also in a quite limited sense, in the Third World. This is well illustrated by two short news articles on Zambia in VG (Verdens Gang, the largest Norwegian newspaper, - translator's note) Wednesday June 27th, 1990. Both articles are on the same page, yet the journalist has seen no reason to connect them. One article states that Kaunda has governed through a one party state, and with poor conditions for the opposition. The opposition students demand a multi-party system. The other article tells about tough insurrections in the country because of increases in food prices. The price on the major food, cornmeal, has increased by 150 percent. 20 people have been killed in Lusaka, where there is what amounts to a state of war. Vigilante groups, which are made up of civilians in close co-operation with the police, have been given a green light to shoot to kill. The article ends as follows: "The increase in prices is a link in Zambia's attempt to set the economy back on its feet, recommended by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Insurrections of the same kind occurred in the Copper Belt in 1986. A state of emergency was declared and student organizations were banned." One might ask why they didn't say a word about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund hindering democracy in Africa.
Lenin discussed how imperialism's superprofits made it possible for the ruling class to "buy up" a stratum of its own country's working class which then supported the ruling class against their own class comrades. There is little doubt that imperialism's superprofits are used to "buy up" a ruling stratum in the Third World which is rewarded for brutally holding their own population down. The line-up of dictatorial regimes that have received large sums in support from the "democratic" West, is endless. But that doesn't stop Western politicians from complaining about the lack of democracy in the "underdeveloped" South.
One of the big challenges for revolutionaries in the West is to break with the idea of our own countries as the place where "real", true socialism can be created. We must stop regarding ourselves as the pattern and the others as deviations. First of all the majority of the world's exploited and oppressed people live in the South. A socialism that is worth anything must solve the problems of the majority. It is the majority who are important. Secondly, the idea of ourselves as a "pattern" is a hopeless starting-point for real liberation in our part of the world. With this kind of starting-point we will never be able to free ourselves of what Amin (1988) calls "eurocentrism": the dominating system of ideas in the capitalistic West. In this system of ideas the poor countries are seen through the glasses of white arrogance. And a system of "obvious truths" has been developed which confirms our superiority and writes off any responsibility we might have for conditions in the rest of the world.
If we cannot free ourselves from eurocentrism it will follow us into a new society. And soon the new society, which should have been based on liberation and solidarity, will be no more than an ugly caricature. The biggest problem revolutionaries in the West will be faced with will probably be the imperialistic heritage. It may turn out to be a heavier burden in connection with real liberation than the semi-feudal and backward conditions in the Third World.
Progressive social movements today must become aware of their "white" blind spots. This goes for trade unions, the women's movement and the ecological movement. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to find examples of "white" perspectives in all these movements.
In connection with the threat of discontinuing the iron- and metal industry in Oslo, the leader of the trade union Fellesforbundet, John Stene, was interviewed in Aftenposten (major Norwegian newspaper, translator's note) in the summer of 1989. He complained that the Prime Minister at the time, Gro Harlem Brundtland, was too much of a girl scout when it came to her views on foreign aid. Norway now had to realize that it was time to throw ourselves into the fray on foreign aid markets on the same terms as other countries, and make sure that the money we give is tied to contracts for Norwegian companies.
I see no reason to defend Norwegian foreign aid as it is today. It probably does more harm than good. But it is a bad thing when an elected representative of the Norwegian trade unions takes the stand that aid to poor countries mainly should be a way to secure Norwegian jobs (and without a storm of protests from the grassroots). That is to strengthen a view of the people of the Third World as people who are there for our sake, people we can use to secure ourselves. That is infesting the Norwegian trade union members with an imperialistic line of thought.
Another example is the campaign against the circumcision of women. Nahid Toubia from the Sudan tells us how an Arabic feminist experienced this (1988, p. 101):
"Over the last decade the issue of female circumcision has received wide exposure by Western media and international organizations as well as national bodies. The West has acted as though they have suddenly discovered a dangerous epidemic which they then sensationalized in international women's forums creating a backlash of over-sensitivity in the concerned communities. They have portrayed it as irrefutable evidence of the barbarism and vulgarity of underdeveloped countries, a point of view they have always promoted. It became a conclusive validation to the view of the primitiveness of Arabs, Muslims and Africans all in one blow."
This does not mean that Toubia does not see circumcision as deeply harmful and oppressive for women, something that must be fought. But how? In the areas of Sudan where this is practiced (the northern areas) 98 percent of all women are circumcised, independently of their parents educational background, class and consciousness in relation to health. This pertains to both the daughters of doctors, social workers, teachers and university professors.
Toubia demonstrates how difficult it is for women to "choose" not to circumcise their daughters. First, an uncircumcised women will lose the opportunity to marry, which is the same thing as to lose the opportunity of a decent life. Secondly, the pressure from the expanded family, from the collective group on the single person, is strong. Circumcision is closely tied to the whole of women's situation in society. Toubia writes (p. 102):
"It is most essential that we find satisfactory answers to the questions a woman will face when she is debating a stand against the practice. She may ask herself: How can I possibly choose a course of action different from my mother's, my aunt's and my friend's? How can I live if I break away from established tradition and choose a path of newly acquired knowledge and unfamiliar practices? How can I possibly risk the only chance for a life for my daughter (marriage) by not circumcising her?"
The answer to these questions is hardly a sensational western campaign. To complete the picture it should be said that amputation of the clitoris has also been done on western women as a medical treatment for "abnormal" sexuality. (See Lilleaas in Materialisten (The Materialist - Norwegian magazine) No. 4, 1988, p. 11-12.)
A third example is the re-awakened interest in the question of population control which has turned up in parts of the environmental movement. In the USA several environmental movements started an intense lobbying to get money for birth control programs. Part of the background for this is that reactionary Christian fundamentalists who fight against women's right to abortion, have also expanded the fight against abortion and birth control to the whole world. It is sensible and right to fight this. Women in all countries need a simple access to safe and unharmful contraceptives. And they need self-determinated abortion to avoid risking their lives in illegal abortions. But the western environmental movement's campaigns for population control in the Third World can easily acquire a different angle: the growing population among the poor is a threat against us. A representative for one of the lobbyist groups, Nancy Wallace, put it like this: "We have reached the limit for what we can do with other parts of the ecology." The poor population in the Third World is obviously a part of our environment, that is, the white's environment, and it is developing in a negative direction. The interest in population questions (in the Third World) on the part of environmental activists and feminists was also obvious at the alternative environmental conference in Bergen in May 1990 (parallel with the big ministerial conference which followed up the Brundtland report). And Norway's Foreign Aid Minister, Tom Vraalsen, stated very dramatically at an UN conference on family planning in May 1990: "The increasing numbers are in fact eating away at the earth itself." One can almost see the poor masses attack as though they were the grasshopper swarms in Egypt described in the Bible. They are a curse and leave destruction in their wake.
Again: Overpopulation is a real problem. But why do people have many children? The Japanese journalist Yayori Matsui asked a poor women in Bangla Desh with ten children this question. This was her answer: "I must have extra hands to help me, and when I get old, I will need someone to take care of me." (Matsui, English edition, 1989, p. 14) Matsui also interviewed a social worker in the same area who is engaged in family planning from a women's viewpoint. She stated that the employees at the state family planning program were given sterilization quotas which they had to fill. Many women were put under enormous pressure, not to say forced, in this connection. Others were given contraceptives which are not sanctioned in western countries, for example, Depo-Provera, which is suspected of being carcinogenic. The social worker, Farida, said (p. 16):
"I know of a case in which a mother-in-law forced her sixteen-year-old daughter-in-law into being sterilized, in order to get the government award. Another woman was operated on in unsanitary conditions, men were smoking and other relatives looking on. Treated like animals, threatened by both the drug Depo-Provera and sterilization, the poor rural women are being victimized ... I can never accept a method of family planning that uses Third World women as guinea pigs. Using force is neither effective nor humane. We need fundamental measures to speed economic development, this will attack the problem of poverty itself. For now, it is more important to at least improve health care service for women. Women should be allowed to choose birth control methods themselves."
There are several reasons for women to have many children. One important reason is undoubtedly poverty. Poverty can mean that having many children is a sensible choice, as the answer Matsui was given by the poor woman illustrated. But to attack poverty costs. It is against the interests of the rulers in the poor countries themselves, and it is against the interests of the rulers in the rich countries. Formulating "the increase in the population" as the problem and not the poverty, means that one doesn't need to attack the riches of the rich, only the bodies of poverty-stricken women. It is a frightening outlook that the bodies of poor women are to be made the battleground between opposers of abortion on the one hand and western population controllers on the other.
Popular movements, such as the trade union movement, the women's movement, the environmental movement, have to make a choice: who are they fighting against and with whom do they want to ally themselves? If one doesn't become aware of one's own blind spots it is easy to get locked into the eurocentristic perspective and "choose" to ally oneself with the rulers in one's own country against the poor countries, without being aware that one has made this choice. But a popular movement which "chooses" this, loses its liberating potential, both in the long and in the short run.
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